(This one is long, you may want to go make a sandwich or something before settling in to this)
In June of 1987, I received the highest rank in Boy Scouts, the Eagle. I worked very hard to get there, and it has always been one of the proudest moments of my life. Much of the person I am today is due to the experiences I had in Scouting, and my oldest and truest friend was a guy I met in Scouts. I went from a shy, nerdy kid to a more confident leader, one who became more aware of the world around him, and more sensitive to those who are less fortunate than I am. Between Scouting and my experiences in high school, I learned to live more as “a man for others”, the motto of my high school.
Lately, however, I have been bitterly disappointed in the direction Scouting has taken. Their reactionary stance against gays, lesbians, and atheists has caused me to question the benefits of the organization, and my son's involvement in it. I find the discriminatory stance that the national BSA organization has taken to be repugnant, and against everything I learned in Scouting. As a parent and an adult leader in Scouting, I teach the exact opposite, that to be a good citizen and decent man, a young boy needs to learn that each of us as individuals have strengths and values no matter who or what they are, and that it is the differences between us and tolerance of them that makes us a better society.
Recently there has been a movement amongst Eagle Scouts to return their Eagle badges, in protest of the policies adopted by the National organization. There is a Tumblr, in fact, featuring Eagles returning their badges in protest. I wholeheartedly support this movement, and the stand that these men are taking. It's a very brave, and meaningful act that I am not sure that non-Eagles truly appreciate. It's also a step I will not take. Not because I do not support the protest, but BECAUSE I do support it, because I want to make my protest and my statement as an Eagle Scout, and as a youth leader.
My friends and I worked very hard on our Eagles, and became thoughtful, careful leaders and participating in the community as tolerant, upstanding, patriotic men. Eagle is not an easy rank to achieve, it's a lot of hard work, you have to lead a community service project, and be recommended by others and accepted by a committee who believes you live up to the ideals of the Scout Law and Oath. Only about 2% of young men who join Scouting will ever earn the rank. It has actually gotten me in the door to jobs I might not have gotten, such is the meaningfulness of the rank.
Because of this, Eagles are expected to be leaders, to hold to the values they have learned, and lived. To stand for them, and in the US, the values that the nation was founded on, that of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is why I will not return my badge, but rather stand up as an Eagle Scout and use that status to decry this policy, and teach the young men in the organization that treating anyone as an inferior, or unworthy of being a part of the organization based on their sexuality or their beliefs is as wrong as if we declared them unworthy because of their skin color, or physical handicap. So as an Eagle Scout of Troop 4, Hingham MA, Old Colony Council in 1987, I stand against and in protest of these policies of discrimination and hate, and promise instead to use my experience to teach that there is no one who should be excluded or declared unworthy, and that the points of the Scout Law itself support my opinions. Each point of the law is followed by a one-sentence description taken straight from the Boy Scout Handbook.
A Scout Is…
Trustworthy – A Scout is trustworthy. A Scout tells the truth. He is honest, and he keeps his promises. People can depend on him.
To be trustworthy, you must gain the respect of others through honesty and respect yourself. By being honest and forthright in all of your actions, you are outwardly respecting those you speak and deal with, and you cannot treat others as inferiors while being honest, truthful and respectful. There is honor in this, and honor is not something simply earned, but also lived, and one cannot be truly honorable while discriminating and belittling others, and showing that he can be depended on by anyone who encounters him.
Loyal – A Scout is loyal. A Scout is true to his family, friends, Scout leaders, school, and nation.
Loyalty is an often misunderstood value. I am a long-standing (and until recently long-suffering) New England Patriots fan. During one of their worst seasons, when they went 5-11 in the mid-90s, I still wore my coat with a giant Pats logo with pride. But to say I am loyal Pats fan is not the real meaning of the term.
True loyalty is being faithful to one's friends, family, nation, or even one's self and beliefs. to be truly loyal to these things, you must be strong and resolute in doing what is right for them, with no consideration for your own gain. It should also be a second nature, giving of yourself to these things you are loyal to without hesitation, but also support them when you know they are right, and discourage them when they are acting in the wrong. There is no greater responsibility as a citizen of the United States, for example, than to express dissent peacefully when you disagree with the actions of the government or elected representatives, and by questioning someone's loyalty because they are expressing their opinions of what is right is in and of itself the greatest violation of the values this country was founded on.
To truly be loyal to that spirit, you need to live by the tenet that all men are created equal. All, not just some. It's taken us a long time to get this far, though, and there is still a way to go to achieve that ideal that Jefferson set before us. But as a leader and an Eagle, this is the core of your loyalty to friends, family, and everything else. treating all as equals and being steadfast in making sure that you do everything you can to be sure they receive the treatment they deserve as individuals.
To borrow a phrase from the webpage I found, “blind loyalty is not loyalty at all, but loyalty founded on truth, compassion, and honor is truly loyal.”
Helpful – A Scout is helpful. A Scout cares about other people. He willingly volunteers to help others without expecting payment or reward.
There already is a bit of a theme forming, huh? I don't even need to get into explaining this one. A Scout cares about other people. Not about other straight people. Not about other religious people. Not “a Scout cares about other people, unless they happen to be different than you.”
Seriously, they need to stop right there and call bullshit on themselves. Yup, I swore. Clearly a violation of point 11! Except…well, we'll get to that.
But a Scout helps others without expecting payment or reward. Without exception. And by discriminating against anyone, they are in violation of that value.
Friendly – A Scout is friendly. A Scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other Scouts. He offers his friendship to people of all races and nations, and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own.
Look! Again! Right there! “Respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own”! Well, yes, the first part of the sentence talks about all races and nations, but even before that it says “A Scout is a friend to all”, and how can that apply when there are a group that is automatically excluded from taking part, from associating with them. Sorry, as soon as you start calling someone a fag and telling them they cannot be a part of your group, that point goes right out the window. Hell, I really hate modern country music, would they discriminate against me? Would that be right? Would that be friendly?
It's also more than just that, though. Remember that one group back in high school, the cool kids who stood above everyone else, putting others down and demeaning them through taunts, pranks, or outright abuse? That's truly the antithesis of being friendly. Yet by declaring that someone is not worthy of being a member of their group simply by their inherent nature is as bad as that one clique that would not let you hang with them unless you were rich, pretty, and/or an athlete, Scouting as an organization is becoming that group, that clique, and it's wrong.
Courteous – A Scout is courteous. A Scout is polite to everyone regardless of age or position. He knows that using good manners makes it easier for people to get along.
I'm going to lump this one in with Friendly, to be honest. It's a value I strongly believe in and have always gone out of my way to try and live by in my personal and professional dealings. Even when I virulently disagree with someone, or find their views distasteful, I generally try to treat them with a level of courtesy that I give to everyone. Unless of course they do not deserve the respect and courtesy that they might wish, by being rude and demeaning themselves, but that is a different story. Even then, I generally try very hard to remain on the high ground and treat people with a base level of courtesy and respect, and try to drill that sense of courtesy into my boys as well.
Yes, you can politely tell someone that they suck and need to go away because you think they are icky, or don't think the same way as you, buuuuuuut… that's hardly courteous. The key word to all of this is a sense of thoughtfulness. Treat others as you would want to be treated, no matter who or what they are. Do me a favor, remember that sentence, I'm coming back to that soon.
Kind – A Scout is kind. A Scout knows there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be treated. Without good reason, he does not harm or kill any living thing.
Well, ok, “soon” meant in three sentences. This is actually one of the most important points of the Scout Law in my eyes. The word “kind” is such a general term, but truly encompasses what it means to be a good, decent person, and a great leader. Medicine has the saying “do no harm”, and that's the essence of kindness.
Yet by excluding, discriminating, and devaluing someone based on their nature is doing great harm. It is encouraging the bullying, the abuse and the hatred against someone who did not ask to be who they are, what they are, how they feel. Scouting has very clear anti-bullying policies, yet by this policy they have made hypocrites of themselves. By stating these policies they are tacitly affirming the bullying and belittling that drove a seven-year-old Detroit boy to hang himself because other kids thought he seemed gay. It is saying that Jay “Corey” Jones deserved to be ostracized, bullied, and abused because he was gay, and that treatment ultimately led to him taking his own life at age 17.
How is that not harming a living thing. Don't even try to tell me that is any sort of good reason, either. That part means that you don't throw rocks and birds or shoot animals with BBs or kick a dog. When I was in summer camp, there was a very strict rule on the archery and rifle range. If you shoot an animal that happens to run onto the range, you are required to butcher it and eat it. One time a squirrel ran out onto the range and some little jerk shot it in the leg. The rangemaster made him then take the gun out to the pit, put the poor creature out of its misery, and then closed the range while he walked the boy to the cooking area where he then, under guidance, stripped the animal down and cooked it for dinner that night for himself. That's what the “good reason” cause is for. That, and of course self-defense.
These kids do not present a clear and immediate threat. their mother, who happens to be a lesbian, is no more a danger to any of the boys than another boy's straight mother. Then how can you claim to uphold a standard that no harm is done to a living thing when you tell a boy that he, or his parent, is less valuable and deserves to be excluded from participating because they are gay, or worse, atheists. That's doing some serious, and in some cases, fatal harm.
Obedient – A Scout is obedient. A Scout follows the rules of his family, school, and troop. He obeys the laws of his community and country. If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he tries to have them changed in an orderly manner rather than disobeying them.
Alright, yes. This one's a bit tricky, and begins to put a bit of hypocrisy back on me. The only counter I have to this is that there is a hierarchy of obedience. “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's” is the first phrase that comes to mind, even if not 100% wholly applicable.
I am a citizen of the United States. I was raised as a Roman Catholic. I report to the Vice President of Technology in my company. I am an Assistant Cubmaster of Pack 27, Haverhill. I am a father. I am married. I have a conscience. That's a lot of authorities I am supposed to be obedient to. I stopped being a member of the Catholic Church, however, when I lost my faith and they destroyed whatever moral authority they had during the sexual abuse scandals. The VP of my company, while I consider him to be a good friend, only has authority over how I execute my responsibilities in my job. The list goes on.
There is only one authority I must be obedient to, ultimately, and that is my own conscience. And by declaring I am an Eagle Scout, I am responsible to uphold and answer to the values in this law, which is one way I shape my conscience. That is the authority I recognize and show any sort of obedience to, and by writing this post, I am accusing the organization itself of abandoning these principles, and the same way the Catholic Church voided any sort of moral authority they may have had, by embracing a policy of exclusion the national BSA organization has begun to lose their own moral authority by violating every one of these twelve points.
So really, I am not the one being disobedient and not following the rules, but the organization itself who is clearly violating its own principles.
Cheerful – A Scout is cheerful. A Scout looks for the bright side of life. He cheerfully does tasks that come his way. He tries to make others happy.
This is a much more self-centered value, but the last point in the quote from the handbook is key. “He tries to make others happy.” I think we've covered this enough earlier, but just to reiterate, excluding and demeaning someone based on the way they are born and made is not the best way to really make people happy. When you make people happy, they usually do not go off and hang themselves in their closets. Figurative closets or literal ones.
Thrifty – A Scout is thrifty. A Scout works to pay his way and to help others. He saves for the future. He protects and conserves natural resources. He carefully uses time and property.
This is not quite as applicable, except that humans are also a natural resource, the same way lumber, coal, and wild animals are. Not conserving them and utilizing them properly, instead wasting them by excluding and demeaning them, is not being thrifty. I know, it's a stretch, but really, it does make sense once you look beyond the obvious monetary definition.
Brave – A Scout is brave. A Scout can face danger although he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him or threaten him.
Bravery is not Sir Launcelot. Bravery is not the absence of fear. True courage is to accept that fear, and overcome it in defending what is good, and right. The first example that always comes to mind is that one man in Tiananmen Square standing in front of a row of tanks in 1989. Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King, Jr. Harvey Milk. Patrick Henry. Michael A. Monsoor. That one kid that stands up to the bigger bully in the neighborhood and refuses to be intimidated, even if he gets the tar beaten out of him.
Bravery is the quality that lets us set aside that fear, and be willing to put ourselves against threats to our friends, our family, ourselves, or even just other people who are being ridiculed, oppressed, or otherwise being harmed by those in a position of strength. To stand meekly by and accept the idea that others are less than you or less deserving of what you have simply because of the way they are born, is cowardice, plain and simple. By caving to special interest groups, the BSA is showing one of the most despicable forms of cowardice I have seen.
Clean – A Scout is clean. A Scout keeps his body and mind fit. He chooses the company of those who live by high standards. He helps keep his home and community clean.
This point of the Scout Law is the one most often cited as the basis for the ban on homosexual members and leaders. This could not be a more inappropriate application of the term “clean mind and living”.
From the earlier cited website, who says it far better than I could:
The term filthy liar is spot on correct. Lying, cheating, and stealing are all habits formed from an unclean soul. Resolving to speak the truth and resist temptation to lie is the basis of being Trustworthy. It is manifest as clean, honest words and actions. A clean scout tempers his tongue and only speaks the truth in a kind manner. This is based on a sense of caring for others. Self-centered people have no care for others or how actions may effect them. An unselfish scout caring for the needs of others out of compassion is an industrial-strength vacuum on the dirt of his soul.
Dirty jokes, vulgar comments, racial slurs, ridicule, and swearing are often heard in many situations. They have no place in scouting and no place in a scout's life. Besides choosing to not say those kinds of things, a scout should also make it known that he will not tolerate those things. A single scout will most likely not change the behaviors of a group, but he can make his feelings known and then remove himself from the crowd. He can also support someone he finds as the butt of these comments and demonstrate compassion to those unclean louts, possibly helping them recognize their ways.
There is nothing there talking about anything to do with one's sexuality, but rather with one's deportment and expressions of respect for others. Discrimination is the same type of behavior as ridicule, or substitute “gay” in place of “racial” above.
Now, let's say you are applying religious morals to this, declaring a behavior to be unclean. So then if I eat bacon, or lobster, or touch a menstruating woman or the chair she sits in, then I guess I better get out of Scouting too. Nope, sorry, not at all applicable here.
Oh, and remember when I swore earlier? Turns out that there is no other word I could think of that truly captures the essence of the meaning of what I was trying to say. So I stand by my use of that word. If it was good enough for my cousin's memorial service, it's good enough to be used here.
Reverent – A Scout is reverent. A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.
Now we reach the final point of the Scout Law, and one that unfortunately even in the Scout Handbook is kind of inappropriately Anglicized. Scouting is ecumenical, inclusive of all faiths and creeds, and even the national policy itself now simply requires a belief in a higher power.
The thing is, that last sentence is pretty important. Respecting the beliefs of others. You cannot do that, while at the same time imposing your beliefs upon them.
More importantly, religion is supposed to be a personal experience, and one that is supposed to be between you and whatever higher power you recognize. I tend to fall back on my Catholic education here and use the story of The Widow's Mite. While the wealthy and arrogant paraded their donations to the Temple around in a rooster-strutting contest, off to the side a poor widow placed her last two pennies quietly into the box, and then quietly went away. While the primary point of the story is to show the value of her gift was far greater than the extravagance of the wealthy, it also illustrates the necessity for humility in one's life. Another New testament example is the Seven Woes Of Hypocrisy, mostly aimed at the Pharisees, who preached and forced their beliefs onto others, but often did not lead the lives that they demanded of others. James Bakker, anyone? Ted Haggard sound familiar? Perhaps Ted Shanley or John Geoghan?
You can live your life as a good, humble, religious person without forcing others to conform to your beliefs, especially if they contradict their beliefs or discriminate against others.
I'll be honest. If you want to start a Scout troop as a part of your Orthodox Jewish community, and discourage non-Orthodox jews from joining, I actually have no problem with that. It's actually done all the time, particularly in Jewish and Mormon communities. I am all for it, in fact, I encourage those communities to do so, to be able to be sure that their particular needs and restrictions are met. If that means you discourage gays, lesbians, transgendered, or atheists from joining, that's your choice, and I am ok with that, because there are other troops around to join that will let us cook bacon on camping trips and do not require two sets of coolers, for example.
But for the national organization to come out and make it the rules for everyone, well, that's where I have the problem, and where I am standing up and saying as an Eagle Scout, that they are wrong, and I demand by my authority as an Eagle Scout, a recognized leader in this organization and society, that they change this policy, and return to the twelve points of the Scout Law as they are meant to be followed.
You don't even need to use twelve points, when one single word will do. Respect.
So no I will not turn in my Eagle Badge. I will not renounce my rank. I earned it and strive to continue to do so every day, and I refuse to endorse this policy, because it goes against the core values of Scouting as explained above, and I challenge BSA to change their policies, or come and get my Eagle. Because I and those who stand with me are the only ones who are truly Eagles, and holding true to Scouting.